Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Brunching East of Brunswick at El Mirage

El Mirage
349 Lygon Street, East Brunswick (map)
9388 0966

El Mirage

One sunny morning on a recent weekend the charming J invited me to join a group of his friends for brunch up in Brunswick East/East Brunswick. The venue of choice was El Mirage, a former factory turned rather lovely cafe with elegantly curved wood panels linking the southern wall to the ceiling.

Our dining companions ordered dishes such as the Slim Jim (poached eggs, ricotta, fig chutney and avocado, $12.50) and the eggs Florentine ($12.50).

Slim JimEggs Florentine

I'm a sucker for lemon curd, so I ordered the pancakes with lemon curd, mascarpone and maple syrup ($12). The pancakes were nicely fluffy, but a huge dollop of curd, a huge dollop of mascarpone AND lashings of maple syrup sprinkled with sugar? Just too much, in my opinion. I ended up scraping off half the curd and most of the mascarpone. Maybe with fewer toppings the dish would be a bit more manageable.

I teased J because of his boring boring brunch choice: poached eggs on toast, no sides ($8). To be fair, he had a heavy cold at the time, so he probably wasn't thinking straight. Anyway, as poached free range eggs on toast go, they looked pretty tasty (and we did our best to make them look vaguely interesting for the blog).

PancakesPoached eggs on toast

After we finished brunch a group of us decided to stroll in the glorious sunshine up north for more coffee.

The Brunswick East Project
438 Lygon Street, Brunswick East (map)
9939 8422

East Brunswick Project

The East Brunswick Project is the home of Padre Coffee (also available at a stall at South Melbourne Market). Blends are roasted on site and the Slayer Synesso machine is manipulated with aplomb. I enjoyed the cafe latte I had, although I was already regretting the fact that I'd had two coffees with brunch. Three coffees kept my heart beating fast for the next few hours.

Flat whiteEast Brunswick Project

Sigh. It seems that fixies are becoming increasingly de rigeur interior decorating items for inner-suburban specialty coffee havens.

Hipster power!

East Brunswick Project

But seriously: enjoyable brunch, enjoyable coffees. :-)

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

MFWF: Pierre Roelofs and Raul Moreno Yague's brilliant dessert and wine matching

When I wrote up my Melbourne Food & Wine Festival round-up last week, I mentioned that my festival highlight was an event called Dessert and Wine Matches, and Beyond, and that I'd dedicate a separate post to it. The other guests, my lovely dining companion Miss F and I were safe in the very capable hands of desserts guru Pierre Roelofs and sommelier Raúl Moreno Yagüe (former sommelier at Vue de Monde and now co-owner of Entre Tapas y Vinos in St Kilda). Quite frankly, the tickets were a steal at only $50 each. The great thing about the event was that the focus was not on the food nor on the wines, but more specifically on the symbiotic relationship between the two. Some of the courses were a little experimental, but they were approached in such a fun way by Pierre and Raúl that it never felt academic.


I double-checked the address of the venue as I approached. It was being held in the showrooms of Arteveneta, a furniture manufacturer and restorer. The most unusual setting I've been to yet for MFWF. It was a gorgeous space though - nice and intimate.


I love how it looks like the African courtier from Tiepolo's Banquet of Cleopatra is operating the Gaggia coffee machine. :)


Upon arrival, we were given a tasty little palate cleanser of vodka, cucumber, elderflower and a little lime zest and juice.

Palate cleanser

The introduction to food and wine pairing began with "three sweet mouthfuls", giving us three different flavours, textures and wines. 1st: vanilla ice cream with a 2006 Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône Valley, France). 2nd: honey foam with an NV Chambers Muscadelle (Rutherglen). 3rd: chocolate mousse with a 2005 Monmousseau Blanc de Blancs "Cuvée J.M." (Touraine, France).

Vanilla ice creamHoney foamChocolate mousse

The vanilla ice cream was simple and subtle, made with dextrose to make it less sweet, and with a hint of salt. When Raúl was deciding what to match it with, he felt a botrytised wine (such as a spicy Sauternes) would overwhelm the subtlety of the ice cream. He decided on the Muscat de B-d-V as it is a fortified wine that could cut through the ice cream as it coated our taste buds.

The muscadelle was served at 14 degrees rather than at room temperature, to bring down a bit of the "heat" of the wine but to keep the lovely tangerine, mandarin, Christmas cakey characters. The honey foam was EXQUISITE, my favourite single flavour of the night. Pierre told us he chose to make it with Victorian leatherwood honey rather than, say, manuka which he'd found in the past to be too strong. The fluffy wet foam was topped with a few sprinkles of freeze dried honey. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The chocolate mousse was made to a Pierre Hermé recipe, using 54% chocolate ("not Valhrona, but a good middle-of-the-road chocolate"). The matching of chocolate with a dry sparkling wine was surprising to say the least! But I thought they worked brilliantly well together: the sparkling wine, at first lemony then slightly more tropical fruity, kept the palate refreshed and had just the right amount of yeastiness to enhance the nuttiness of the mousse.

Vanilla ice creamHoney foam

The three sweet mouthfuls were followed by a "classic dessert" course of warm apple tart with a glass of NV Trabanco Sidra 'Lagar de Camin' (Asturias, Spain). Raúl flashed us a smile and announced that it was time to get into "cheeky, funky, naughty things". :)

He explained to us that rather than trying to match the apples in the apple tart, he'd decided to go with something yeasty to enhance the buttery, savoury, salty flavours of the dough. Much as I love clean ciders (I've been practically living on Coldstream Cider from the Cherry Tree this summer), there's nothing like a really good sidra that's all barnyard stink and mustard and blue cheese. And I mean all that in the best possible sense. Its matching with the apple tart was possibly my favourite matching of the night.

Classic dessert

Raúl and Pierre, eloquently charming the pair of them. I was really impressed with the way they immediately put everybody at ease, and fostered discussion and audience participation within the room, rather than just lecturing to us. The atmosphere in the room was warm and relaxed and enthusiastic.

Dessert & wine matchings and beyondDessert & wine matchings and beyond

The next course was titled "Textures come into play" and this is where the Roelofs touch became really evident with the "Pierre's Style" dish of mandarin, corn, coconut and chocolate. It was matched with a NV Sauci Naranja (Condado de Huelva, Spain), a wine whose citrus explosion on the palate is explained by the fact that the wine is aged on dried orange rinds for six months. Some really lovely secondary characters such as zabaglione, orange blossom and sandalwood still came through though.

Textures come into play

But let's break down "Pierre's Style". Pierre told me that he originally wanted to include 14 elements to this dish but then worked it down to nine. I *think* this is all of them: corn bread (made according to Johnny Cash's recipe!), puffed corn roasted in honey, dehydrated corn, semi-dessicated coconut, tiny sheets of polenta baked and then crumbled, mandarin marmalade, fresh mandarin segments, crème pâtissière, crumbs of pure cocoa. Wow wow wow wow wow. I LOVE THIS MAN. I split my dish in half and explored the first half by just tasting and savouring one element at a time, then for the second half combining elements to see how they all tasted together, both in terms of flavour and of texture.

Pierre's Style

The maestro at work. Having the demonstration mirror above the bench allowed us to watch him construct each course, element by element. At the end of the night we were chatting and I realised that I knew his girlfriend, as she used to teach me yoga! Lovely people.

Dessert & wine matchings and beyond

The final course was somewhat intriguingly titled "Reverse Matching", and Raúl explained to us that they'd decided to experiment with something a little different: rather than using the dessert as a starting point and finding a wine to match, Raúl had selected a wine he wanted to serve, described to Pierre what he could smell and taste and then had Pierre create a dish around that!

The wine in question (deliberately not a dessert wine) was the 2006 Sutton Grange Estate Syrah (Central Victoria). Some of the flavours that Raúl picked up in the wine included blueberries, medicinal sasparilla or Coca-Cola, cabbage, tea, almond meal and (uncharacteristically for shiraz) spearmint. Can you imagine making a dessert from those ingredients?!

Reverse matching

Well, this is what Pierre did: a black smoked tea (Russian Caravan) and semi fermented cocoa nibs cake, a sasparilla jelly, spearmint essence gel, dried apricots, mulderberries (freeze dried and then rehydrated with shiraz), shiraz sauce thickened with xantham gum, cabbage (boiled slowly so as to retain crunch, then cooked with maple syrup), dehydrated almond skins (Pierre very cutely thanked his housemates for putting up with the smell as he'd boiled the almond skins off and then dehydrated them for four or five days).

I felt this pairing best exemplified the philosophy that Raúl had articulated at the start of the night: any flavour can be matched with anything as long as you break it down. The ingredient list above may sound like a total nightmare recipe, but I was genuinely surprised to find how well it all worked. Fascinating.

Raul & Pierre's Style

The good news for those of you that missed out on the evening is that Pierre Roelofs is making his return to Collingwood/Fitzroy with dessert only evenings every Thursday night from 22 April. They'll be held at Rosamond, Rear 191 Smith Street Fitzroy (cnr Charles St), 94192270. I for one can't wait!

Dessert & wine matchings and beyond

Thursday, 25 March 2010

MFWF and Eat.Drink.Blog. round-up

Fed Square

Last week I went completely berserk at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. What follows is a summary of the MFWF-related shenanigans I got up to as the week progressed, culminating in a fantastic day at the first ever Australian Food Bloggers Conference. Once you've read this post, you will understand why this week is an alcohol-free detox week for Melbourne Gastronome. :-)

For the Monday I'd booked tickets to an event that, as it turns out, was THE highlight of the festival for me: Dessert and Wine Matches, and Beyond. That event will get its own dedicated Melbourne Gastronome post posthaste - in the meantime here's a photo of Pierre Roelofs' dessert sorcery in progress, to whet your appetite...

Raul & Pierre's Style

On Tuesday I committed the food blogger's unpardonable sin, and forgot to put my digital camera in my handbag. I was cameraless!! Which is a damn shame, because I attended not one but two MFWF events that day. During my lunch hour I strolled down to City Square to check out the Metlink Edible Garden, because it was a lovely sunny day and because The Provenance chef Michael Ryan had said the Garden was impressive.

I arrived to find that Embrasse chef Nic Poeleart (who, along with Michael, I'd met at the MFWF media launch) was doing a demonstration, using heirloom vegetables to make a deceptively simple but wildly impressive-looking dish. Pat from the blog Cooking Down Under took a great Flickr photoset you can view of all the vegetables growing in the edible garden set up by the Digger's Club.

On Tuesday night I'd been invited by Dana from the Festival to attend the Heat Beads Hawkers' Market, for an evening with the first lady of food blogging herself, Pim from the blog Chez Pim! I jumped at the chance to meet her, and a group of other Melbourne food bloggers and I had a fun, relaxed night hanging out with Pim (she is CUTE AS A BUTTON, by the way) and sampling different hawker dishes. Write-ups of the food on offer can be found on Eating Melbourne and Eat Drink Stagger.

On Wednesday I'd cunningly structured my working day so as to be able to duck in briefly to the morning tea for the MFWF Legends of Melbourne Food and Wine, where past inductees mingled and congratulated the 2010 legends. I live-tweeted the results as they were announced - ooooh, how very citizen-journalist of me...

The new inductees were Yarra Valley vigneron Guill de Pury (Yeringberg), Epicure's Rita Erlich, France-Soir restaurateur Jean-Paul Prunetti, the Seymour family (Mt Zero) and Maggie Beer. Lots of famous and familiar foodie faces, and the morning tea was held up on top of the portico of Melbourne Town Hall. A gorgeous spot.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

As I left the Town Hall, the trams were being held up by two camels loping down Swanston Street. But of course.

Swanston Street camelsSwanston Street camels

On the Wednesday night I'd reserved tickets to attend South of the Border, Tommi Miers' Mexican-inspired MFWF meal at MoVida Aqui, with best-friend-K. Joining us at our table was the lovely Kate from the blog Eating Melbourne, and her J. You can read Kate's review of the evening here.

Tommi Miers dinner at MoVida Aqui

I seemed to enjoy the meal the most out of the four of us - though I agree with Kate that at $110 per head prices seemed a little steep (especially as the wines weren't matched the way they were at the similarly-priced Taste of Spain at MoVida lunch that we went to last year). That said, I'm looking forward to visiting Tommi's restaurant Wahaca next time I'm in London - her approach to Mexican food is so fresh and different to what we tend to get here.

Tostada de pulpoTequila

Unlike Kate, tequila doesn't trigger horror projectile vomit flashbacks for me, so I loved sipping my glass of 100% agave and alternating it with the glass of sangrita. The culinary highlight for me was the aguachile (Mexican chilli water with scallop, cucumber and fresh lime) - lots of sour, a little salty and with a kick like a mule. :-)

AguachileTommi Miers dinner at MoVida Aqui

On Thursday I took a break from MFWF and went to my friend Schatzi's house for dinner. That night, Twitter was ablaze with Melbourne foodies feeling the #momofukurage (a more fulsome explanation of the phenomenon we named #momofukurage can be found at the end of this page) at not being amongst of the anointed few to get a ticket to Momofuku does Melbourne. One particular food writer who was at the event wrote such an insufferably smug tweet that night about the dinner the plebs were missing out on that it triggered a spate of angry foodie unfollowers!

On Friday I went along to Fed Square to check out the cooking demonstration that was on before that night's MFWF Barilla Foodie Film. I went along because the demo was being done by my good friend Andrew Kelly from Auction Rooms on the coffee syphon and Pierre Roelofs (whose dessert magic had so bewitched me on the Monday night) doing a dessert that would incorporate both Barilla pasta and syphon coffee. Pierre filled rigatoni with mascarpone (as a tribute to tiramisù) and included all sort of ingredients like poached pineapple, syphon coffee gel, ground Yirgacheffe coffee beans, Egyptian willow water and gold leaf (because the film being screened was called Black Gold).

The good news is that Pierre Roelofs is poised make his official return to the Melbourne dining scene, with dessert-only evenings at Cafe Rosamond in Fitzroy each Thursday from 22 April. Andy will be serving Small Batch specialty coffee to accompany, and I'm pleased to announce that on the 22nd they'll be recreating the Black Gold dish I described above. Looking forward to it!

Fed Square

After swinging by Fed Square I met up with Kate and friends to embark on a MFWF High Life circuit. We claimed that we were going on a very highbrow rooftop art installation tour, but really it was just an excuse for a booze hag bar crawl on an empty stomach, who were we kidding. We visited Madame Brussells, Sarti and Rooftop Bar... by that stage we lost track of things and didn't make it to bar #4...

Madame BrusselsSarti

But there is no rest for the wicked! On Saturday morning I was up early to meet a few interstate food bloggers freshly arrived in Melbourne for breakfast at the excellent Hardware Societe. Then I popped in to check out the MFWF Miele Hands-On Masterclass, where Ana Sortun, chef from Boston restaurant Oleana, was teaching a class of twelve in the Miele display kitchen to prepare Turkish, Lebanese, Greek and Moroccan dishes using spices the class participants had roasted and ground themselves.

Miele masterclass

Some of the dishes the class prepared: Moroccan style beetroot salad with goat cheese, ras el hannout and smoked cinnamon almonds, and roasted autumn baby pumpkins stuffed with Persian spice and pilaf. The latter was particularly good.

Miele masterclassMiele masterclass

Which brings us to Sunday, the day I was most looking forward to: the day of Eat.Drink.Blog., the Australian food bloggers conference!

The conference, held at The Essential Ingredient, was a smashing success: all of the panels were both fun and educational, and the 45 food blogger attendees got along famously (aided somewhat by the awesome scrolling tweetwall projected on the wall, which showed live comments all of us iPhone-addicted attendees were sending to #EatDrinkBlog).

I gave a presentation entitled "I thought you might like to mention our product on your blog": The impact of trade practices regulation on bloggers and the ethics of freebies and conflicts of interest - stressing of course that I was appearing in my capacity as a food blogger and NOT in my capacity as a trade practices lawyer, and looking very tongue-tied if anybody tried to ask for legal advice. Sorry, bloggers! :-)


After the conference itself ended, we all went to a warehouse opposite St Ali for the Food Bloggers Photo Exhibition which SBS Food had facilitated for us as part of the conference. Cocktails were provided by Der Raum and included the Camomile Chroming, disgorging clouds of liquid nitrogen from jars labelled 'POISON'.


St Ali then put on a fabulous degustation dinner for us, and beer, wine and mineral water were provided for us from Red Hill Brewery, Prentice Wine and Daylesford and Hepburn Springs Mineral Springs Co respectively. A very sincere thank you to our patrons - given that there was no incorporated body organising the conference, it wouldn't have been possible from a legal or practical perspective without you. And a HUGE thanks to the amazing food bloggers who put so much work into organising the conference! Can't wait for the next one in 2011.

This post has already gone on long enough so I'll shut up now - but for more detail on the conference, check out the links on this page to related posts by other bloggers, and have a chuckle at the mention we got in The Age. Apparently, food-related blogs were - until recently - the domain of teenagers in their bedrooms (!).


Sunday, 14 March 2010

Al fresco at Bond Street Cafe & Wine Bar

Bond Street Cafe & Wine Bar
4A Bond Street, South Yarra (map)
9824 1161

Last night I went to the movies with good friends CD and best-friend-K (to FINALLY see Avatar, in all its 3D glory). When the girls raised the possibility of grabbing a bite beforehand, I suggested a place I hadn't yet visited but had had recommended to me several times by trusted advisors: Bond Street Cafe & Wine Bar. I'm notoriously picky about eating Italian food in restaurants, given the quality of my Nonna's cooking, but I'm happy to report that BSC&WB pushed my foodie buttons.

Bond St Cafe & Wine Bar

We'd already placed our order, but then I realised that olive all'ascolana were on the menu so I promptly requested a serve for us to share ($10). Olives stuffed with veal then crumbed and fried - a few these sinful little babies makes an entirely excellent antipasto. We don't have fried antipasti much in our part of Italy, so it was only when I first went to Rome that I was able to really appreciate how good a plate of fritti misti can be. Nobody does fried antipasti better than the Romans. :)

Olive all'ascolana

The girls ordered fried inizi: CD had some rather curious, tempuraesque frittelle made of calamari and summer vegetables, served with aioli ($13), and b-f-K had some crochette di melanzane con basilico e provoletta ($12). I particularly liked the crochette: they may look plain, but the smoked mozzarella tasted great with the eggplant and basil.

Frittelle di calamari con verdurine di stagioneCrochette di melanzane con basilico e provoletta

I was pretty psyched to see vitello tonnato on the menu ($13), as it's another favourite Italian dish of mine that Nonna sometimes makes. The combination of roasted veal and tuna sauce can throw the uninitiated, but it's delicious. The version at Bond was sexed up with cubes of seared yellow fin tuna, torn anchovy fillets and teeny tiny capers. Highly recommended.

Vitello tonnato

For main course b-f-K ordered the maccheroncelli con ragù di agnello ($26), which she loved, and CD ordered the pasta special: tagliatelle with pancetta and zucchini in a white wine sauce. In both cases, the pasta was just al dente enough - another thing I get very picky about in Italian restaurants!

Maccheroncelli con ragu di agnelloTagliatelle special

I ordered the fish special: it had been described to me by a waitress as snapper but when it came out it was swordfish, and the waiter insisted that it had always been swordfish. No matter. It was served with delicious Sardinian fregula and eggplant.


An excellent wine list and sleek minimalist decor added to the attraction of the venue, as did the location: close to the cinema, but tucked down a side street so as to minimise interaction with the skankiness of Chapel Street on a Saturday night. The hard shiny surfaces mean that the interior of the restaurant can get a little noisy when full, but I suggest perching on stools outside as we did for a lovely (and reasonably priced, all things considered) al fresco meal.